Voice assistants: vital for marketers in 2020?

Voice is here, and it’s getting louder.

Even though voice-enabled search has been around for several years, it’s still an emerging technology that many other marketers — and brands — are trying to wrap their heads around.

To get some answers, we took matters into our own hands. Two of our colleagues were sent home armed with their own voice assistants – one a Google Home, and one an Amazon Echo – to see what issues, insights and ideas came up.

As a result, we believe there are three huge areas of interest in voice that will directly impact marketers in the near future. Digital Marketing Executive, Becky Jenkins, reports back.

How will voice-enabled search change digital marketing?

Initially a novelty when launched by Google in 2011, voice-enabled search now accounts for more than 20% of all its searches.

With the topic dominating SEO debates, we first explored two burning questions: how different is searching via voice to a manual Google search, and do the responses vary on each device?

To test this, we asked Google Home questions that we knew we already returned ‘featured snippets’ from our content. We were very happy to hear the device read out some of our snippets, including one from the Global Renewable Hub website we developed and launched in 2018, which aimed to rank for users enquiring about corporate-scale renewable energy sources.

On Google, therefore, it appears the rules are pretty similar. However, one of the largest areas of uncertainty in the relationship between voice devices and SEO is that Amazon Echo devices use Bing as their search engine.

Given that Amazon’s devices account for more than 60% of all smart speakers in the US, the potential implications of this are not to be taken lightly. It’s all the more interesting when you think about how marketers and developers so often focus on Google’s algorithms, with other search engines taking a back seat.

Clearly, this part of the industry is going to change.

Smart speaker ownership grew by 40% in the US in 2019, and the adoption of these devices is expected to increase further. Combined with the market power of Amazon’s Echo and Alexa devices, a new set of SEO priorities will emerge for marketers.

Optimising for Bing, and designing with featured snippet rankings in mind, will become an essential part of content creation and website development. This is especially true for those information-seeking search queries, which Google is already aiming to fulfil more accurately with its new algorithm update, BERT.

Voice commerce: opportunities and challenges

Shopping via voice assistants is growing, with 1 in 5 consumers having shopped using their voice. This is no surprise given that advertising around voice devices (particularly Amazon Echo) often focuses on the consumer benefits of hands-free purchasing.

However, most people would still say that their typical online shopping experience includes looking at pictures and reading reviews.

Shopping by voice requires consumers to make a habitual change and many remain sceptical – only 22% of smart speaker owners have purchased a new product with it – so we’re not surprised that the take-up of voice shopping is slower than with other device features.

We tested the shopping function with Alexa and, while it is a convenient way to shop, we found the lack of control over what is being added to the basket a particular barrier, one that is perhaps reflective of why voice shopping hasn’t quite caught on so far.

While voice shopping functionality is in its infancy, the biggest consideration at this stage is the implications for e-commerce branding.

We predict that consumers will be much more likely to mention a specific brand they know and trust when ordering by voice, instead of risking a ‘random’ product to be added to their basket, pushing up the importance of brand loyalty, especially for FMCG products.

Products with memorable and easily pronounceable names could also benefit from any growth in voice shopping. That poses a challenge for brands to simplify terminology, while still being able to differentiate their products. A great example is tech-heavy brands, where products names can feel confusing to consumers, dominated by seemingly random letter/number combinations.

Will voice change the face of content marketing?

No-one can ignore the phenomenal rise of audio content. Time spent listening to online audio content, such as podcasts, has increased significantly over the last 10 years, even before voice assistants became commonplace in the home.

As we became more comfortable with voice devices becoming a more central part of our home routines, we were unanimously excited about being able to listen to audio content easily – from news headlines and weather reports, to audiobooks and music – without having to manually set up our phones or radios.

Our excitement no doubt reflects the wider consumer appeal of convenient audio content. As consumption of voice content grows even further, marketers can’t keep ignoring it as a way to connect with potential and existing customers.

Consumer demand for genuine, exceptional content from brands remains key to everything businesses should do, and voice content fits perfectly with this aim. While podcasts and radio are the clear winners for popularity, it doesn’t stop there.

There are a number of different audio content options available for marketers, and we’re seeing some really creative uses of Alexa blueprints and skills to achieve a variety of different business goals.

For example, marketing entrepreneurs Neil Patel and Eric Siu created an educational content skill that reads out marketing advice every day, while Purina created a light-hearted skill to answer user questions about pets.

These examples offer value to the consumers in very different ways, but ultimately build brand awareness and a positive association.

The growing functionalities and popularity of voice assistants shows the large opportunity that voice content gives marketers to meet a variety of business goals.

If you want to explore ways that your business could benefit from the opportunities that voice offers, get in touch – we’d love to talk.

Becky Jenkins    
Digital Marketing Executive